"A long memory can drive a man crazy."
-- Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Stepping Ahead of Arthritis

    I have chronic osteoarthritis in my ankle and my knee, due primarily to old injuries. I've also had bouts of stenosis in my neck -- which is basically the same as arthritis. Then last year my back started bothering me. At first I tried to ignore it, but eventually I went to the doctor, and sure enough, he confirmed I have signs of arthritis in my lower spine as well.

     By the way, I blame my parents for my bad bones. My dad dealt with a back pain for as long as I can remember, and my mother got osteoporosis later in life. Also, I have two sisters. Both of them have had bone issues. One has had surgery on her foot and her shoulder. The other has two new knees.

     I have not gone under the knife myself. But over the years I've been through several regimens of physical therapy -- for my ankle, my knee, my neck, and now my back.

     I remember when I first had neck issues, I was given an exercise regiment which I did regularly -- until my neck stopped hurting. Then I stopped. Of course, the pain and numbness returned, and I had to go for more physical therapy. So now I've learned my lesson, and I'm pretty good about doing my prescribed exercises -- because they do seem to work, and there's no greater motivation for doing exercises than to avoid pain.

    Fortunately, my back exercises are similar to the ones I do for my knees -- so I kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. I do one session in the morning, and a "refresher course" of about ten minutes before  I go to bed.

     I like to play golf and ping pong. I've also played a little pickleball. When we're able to go out again in public -- after we all get our shots, maybe by summer -- I've been thinking of joining a pickleball group. So I asked the doctor if that would be okay. His basic response was, the best thing you can do is keep moving. So do anything, as long as it doesn't hurt -- although he did tell me not to run long distances (no danger of that), and suggested that biking and swimming are two great low-impact exercises that strengthen the legs and body. So I bike and swim when I can, but honestly, not too often.

     He also recommended over-the-counter pain medications. I took Naproxen (Aleve) for a while, but then I heard it can give you a heart attack or stroke or something. So now I take Ibuprofen (Advil) a couple of times a week when the ache doesn't go away -- or more lately Acetaminophen (Tylenol), since I read somewhere that Ibuprofen makes you more susceptible to Covid. I don't even know if that's true. But anyway, luckily, I have not felt the need to go on to anything more powerful.

     I've also tried CBD ointment on my knee and ankle. I think it might have helped a little, but it's hard to tell. It might just be the placebo effect.

      I'm always wondering if there's anything else I can do to slow down arthritis, to keep the pain levels down, maybe prevent it from popping up elsewhere in my body. There's a lot of advice about diet. The problem is that none of it is conclusive.

      Everyone agrees that eating plenty of vegetables, especially broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, is good for arthritis, as well as virtually every other health issue we might have. We're supposed to consume lots of fiber, and restrict intake of salt and sugar. People disagree about milk and milk products -- although nobody thinks eating a lot of cheese is a good idea. But that may be as much for its fat and salt content as its milk content.

     The truth of the matter is that you can't eat your way out of arthritis. There's really no "cure." Pain killers might help. Surgery can work in the most severe cases. But for most of us the best medicine is exercise. Stretching for sure, as well as light-to-moderate, low-impact movement like swimming, walking, biking. And . . . by summer I hope to put pickleball on the list.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tom, I've just recently turned 70 and have had some significant arthritis issues since my early 50s. I was advised by a variety of docs - podiatrists, bone docs and neurologists - to have surgery on my feet as I was turning 50. I read up on it and strongly disagreed so chose other options. Over the years I've learned a few things: first, good shoes are one of the best things you can do to help your knees, hips, back, etc. If you can find a shoe store that employs a pedorthist, they will put you on the right path. Next, I tried things like IcyHot and got no relief. But an excellent physical therapist advised me to use BioFreeze, which was really helpful. I recently discovered Penetrex, which I like even better (although it's harder to find). I wouldn't discount the relief you felt with CBD - I bought some from the best pharmacy in town (to avoid the junk products I might find elsewhere) and felt great relief. Doubtful, I showed it to my PCP, who said it looked great and that he was going to buy some from his wife for her arthritis. Finally, I injured my neck (in a gym working out with a personal trainer!) and had emergency spinal fusion in 2003. The surgery was very successful, but every now and then neck pain flares up. I get great relief from a u-shaped Bucky pillow that I heat in the microwave. I'm having more trouble with arthritis now that the pandemic has prevented my 3-4 times per week, hourlong swims at my local gym. I did a set of stretches in the water that gave me great relief, and then swam for 30 minutes. Bliss.
Nina

Olga said...

My mother was very conscious of a healthy diet and sturdy footwear. I used to hate it when my friends got to have potato chips for lunch every day and got to wear pretty little shoes to school, but now I thank her for a good start on healthy habits.

Barb said...

As you know, I have two steps above arthritis. Which also will never get better as the leg cannot exactly stop degeneration. Fortunately my back id not affected but my shoulders and legs are. Injuries, genetics, possibly bad habits. I can attest to the fact that both nightshade (tomatoes, peppers and potatoes) and dairy products are highly inflammatory (as is sugar). Thats why Tom Brady and others eat none. That said, I'm drinking my glass of mild every night!.Mine is so advanced it leeches Vitamin D from my body. I agree that any movement is good but the lower impact the better. I would only add that in addition to stretching strength reduces pain. Building up the muscles around the knee is really important so I'm surprised your doctor did not mention that. Like Nina My exercise of choice is walking a mile or so in the pool. S well.ascwster workouts with weights.. Something I hope to be able to do again by the end of the summer. My SAS shoes are lifesavers and I cannot imagine just regular shoes or sneakers. Aldo a therapist once told me to use heat pre exercise and ice afterward and that has stood me in good stead. I've never used CBD cream but I have used tropicals with Cannabis and u can tell that is a game changer. If I were to sneak something in from Colorado that would be it.

Tom said...

Yes ... actually, my exercise regimen includes some mild weight lifting. And I forgot to mention shoes. My doctor recommended insoles which I use. However, I've, um, yet to cut back on the sugar.

Arkansas Patti said...

So glad you are using insoles. I had custom made orthodics made by my podiatrist 20 years ago. Still use the same ones and never go barefoot. All foot and knee pains are gone. A chiropractor fixed my back and hip problems a couple of years ago. I use to think chiropractors were fake doctors till my cardiologist made an appointment with one for me. Changed my life. Not only fixed my back and hips but taught me how to fix my shoulder that had bothered me for 3 years after a fall. Now I was never diagnosed with arthritis so none of this may apply to actual arthritis. Really hoping you find relief.

DJan said...

I have a tube of high potency CBD cream and use it whenever I've got any soreness in my knees and ankles. It usually helps greatly. Arthritis runs in my family, but I try to work through discomfort to keep moving. I love to walk and hike and use whatever it takes to keep going, until I can't any more. Some day in the future. :-)

Rian said...

Tom, I know arthritis is no laughing matter, but you reminded me of something a medical technician told me after having a bone density test. I asked her about the test and she said it was obvious that I had a 'degenerative bone disease'. This scared me (for a moment - sounds bad right?) until I realized that she meant I had arthritis. And I said, "not unusual for my age, right?" She said "right". And mine isn't bad, sometimes the joints in my wrists hurt, sometimes my back, and especially my neck area - but with me, a Tylenol will do the trick (or soaking in a hot bath). And yes, I 'try' to remember to do my back exercises daily.

Barb said...

As have I..

Kay said...

My mother is in good health aside from her high blood pressure which she controls with Atenolol. She does eat pretty healthy. My brother and I must take after the other side of the family since we both have diabetes. Arthritis, we don't have. I don't think even our doctor knows absolutely what the best solution was. I have osteo too. My doctor said she doesn't really want me to take a lot of calcium because she thinks it's not good for the heart. What to do. What to do.

Tabor said...

Many decades ago when we were in our 60's my husband started missing steps and falling. We went to the doctor who diagnosed stenosis of the spine at his neck. He had earlier problems where he would stretch his neck in a sling for a while and that helped. Now they recommended surgery if he wanted to be mobile. The surgeon was excellent and he had 2 decades of great freedom. Now he is getting a little pain, but his exercises seem to be keeping it a bay. I felt so grateful to get a a very good surgeon.

Rita said...

I'm glad you've resisted having surgery. As the commenters show, there are a lot of things you can do before you have surgery. Good lock. The pickleball sounds fun.

ApacheDug said...

Tom, I sure am sorry you have to deal with this (and all the others here too who I know). Several days ago my younger sister (who works as a medical transcriber in a physical therapists office) wrote and told me I'd be surprised how many people "our age" come in for rehab for arthritis and hip & knee surgeries. (She said I knew a few of them, but she'd lose her job if she shared any patient's info). This getting old business IS getting old, but I suppose it beats the alternative. PS. THANK YOU for being one of the 20 other people on this planet who admit to enjoying sugar besides me! I admit I add it to my coffee, but I gave up drinking soda 6 years ago, in all that time I've only had a single Coke.

Red said...

You've learned a lesson I learned. When the physio therapist says, "Four times a day she means it." It will work if you follow instructions. Good luck in your search.

Jennifer (UnfoldAndBegin) said...

I have arthritis in my low back and in my left knee. The back is the bigger problem but the knee responds well to KT tape. If you haven't tried it I highly recommend it. It took me from not being able to put weight on my knee without a crutch to being able to walk without the crutches.

DUTA said...

Our killers and healers are within the Food we eat.( Yes, sugar and salt are killers). watching our body Weight is of utmost importance, if we want no trouble with our knees. Avoid Stress and cold ,humid Weather both of which promote Arthritis. Leave a place, move to another, if you can.
All the above is for Prevention, which as we know is the best Cure.
Dealing with meds, surgery, excercise - that's not desirable, to say the least.

Meryl Baer said...

I have back issues which affect my legs and walking. Exercise definitely helps, and I try to maintain a regular routine, but I am motivationally weak. But when I don't exercise for a couple of days my body starts to reject me. Winter is the worst, especially this winter, staying north and unable to be outside a lot. I don't want to go under the knife until I absolutely have to.

Laurie Stone said...

I've done a little yoga everyday for years (look up the Sun Salutation on Youtube) and I swear, its helped me. If I miss a few days, I start to feel it.

Carole said...

Ortho docs will tell you that for every pound you gain, it adds 3-4 pounds of additional pressure to your knee. Likewise, if one loses 10 pounds, you have reduced the pressure on your knee by 30-40 pounds. That's pretty significant! Cortisone injections definitely help as well.

I have friends that have had knee replacement surgery. Some fare better than others. The acetaminophen versus ibuprofen is tricky as well. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is tough on the liver, and ibuprofen (Advil) is hard on the kidneys. It's tough getting old!

Jeff said...

You wrote, "I took Naproxen (Aleve) for a while, but then I heard it can give you a heart attack or stroke or something. So now I take Ibuprofen (Advil) a couple of times a week when the ache doesn't go away -- or more lately Acetaminophen (Tylenol), since I read somewhere that Ibuprofen makes you more susceptible to Covid."

As a retired medical school professor and pharmaceutical executive who has been following the entire COVID-19 story closely, I wanted to comment on what you wrote, above. Naproxen and ibuprofen have identical modes of action -- they should be considered clinically interchangeable. Neither makes you more susceptible to COVID-19. Both are associated epidemiologically with an excess risk of heart attack -- something widely recognized now by the medical profession.

As with all medications (prescription or over-the-counter), remember to make an informed decision together with your physician and/or pharmacist.

Finally, I really enjoy your blog!

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I totally agree it's all about exercise. The more you move the longer you can move. It doesn't have to be complicated. Walking and stretching make a huge difference. Sitting too much is the worst.

gigi-hawaii said...

Very interesting to read about exercise being good for arthritis. I tend to be sedentary, which is not good for me.

Tom said...

Jeff -- Thanks for clarifying (and for the compliment). I guess that underscores what others have suggested which is, no matter how innocuous a medication may seem, we should all be careful and only take when really necessary. Rebecca -- If only we didn't have to sit down to write our blogs!

Plynjyn said...

Tom, I too have osteo arthritis. My grandma on my mom’s side was in a wheel chair with it and on my dad’s side my grandma used a walker. My doctor can feel the nodules along all of my fingers. I used to be an optometric assistant and needed to work with contact lenses and tiny screws in eyeglasses. I was in my 40s and would plunge my hands into the hottest water I could stand every morning to get relief. I got a recommendation to use apple cider vinegar and began with adding 1 capful to grape juice or apple juice every night before bed. It helped and as soon as I felt better and stopped the aching returned and I would be miserable until I resumed taking it and a day or so later the pain left. After 30 years of doing this I am now up to 7 caps full in juice every night but it works for me. I have to guard against using my hands too much and overdoing it, but the intense aching to the bone is gone. I can tell when I need to increase the capful because the aching shows back up again. This has worked for me, it is inexpensive and during the pandemic my concern was having enough bottles of apple cider vinegar at home to keep my pain at bay.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! Damn! What's the saying, "Getting old ain't for sissies!" Yes the aches and pains ad up as we age and I guess that is the trade off for having lived a good life so far. I have only minor arthritis in my hip but am doing PT to help resolve it. And I think my high glucose is karma for all the sugary candy and soda I USED to drink and eat. What's the other saying? "If I knew I was going to live this long I'd taken better care of myself." The thing is I think we all anticipated we would live this long but we didn't do a very good job calculating how our riotous eating and other activities could come back to haunt us. Ah, the innocence of youth! ~Kathy

Kathleen said...

Yup! Motion is the lotion. Sucks though...��

Anonymous said...

I have not tried it but many in my pickleball group swear by "Voltaren".

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